Despite Bachmann flap, most districts change little; Paulsen the big winner?
Minnesota’s reapportioned congressional map yielded one well-publicized surprise by placing the home of Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of the 6th Congressional District into the 4th District, which is represented by DFL U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum. Bachmann immediately lambasted the map and announced she would nonetheless run in the 6th District.
But that tempest obscured a larger continuity. Generally, the alignment of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts was left intact by the panel of judges charged with drawing Minnesota’s new political boundaries. The five judges appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court opted largely for the status quo, albeit with a lot of tinkering around the edges.
Peter Wattson, a former state Senate counsel and a nationally recognized expert on redistricting, noted that judges lack the freedom to move districts around like pieces of a puzzle. Given that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature failed to agree on a map of their own, Wattson said the judges appeared to be mindful of a January U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a federal court had overstepped its bounds by drawing Texas political maps in a way that favored Democrats.
“It’s what I would have expected,” Wattson said of the Minnesota map, “particularly in view of what the U.S. Supreme Court had reiterated in January in the Texas case — that the job of a court when it has to draw up plans is to just solve the constitutional problem and not engage in social engineering or legislating from the bench.”
Bachmann blasts judges
The congressional districts are supposed to include 663,000 Minnesotans. Population fluctuations caused mainly by internal migration were the root cause of the only instance in which incumbents were paired. The old 4th Congressional District, composed of St. Paul and nearby suburbs, lost nearly 50,000 people, while the old 6th Congressional District, which runs from the St. Croix River east of St. Paul to past St. Cloud, gained twice that amount.
McCollum’s 4th CD was extended to the St. Croix River to make up for the loss of population. The newly drawn 4th turned out to include the home of the district’s GOP incumbent, Bachmann. Bachmann immediately railed against the redistricting panel, labeling its members “liberal judges,” but Wattson found the new map well reasoned.
“The court did with that 4th District the logical thing — to take the population that McCollum needed, almost 50,000 people, out of a district that had almost 100,000 too many was a neat way to solve two problems,” Wattson said.
McCollum’s re-election prospects aren’t made any easier by the addition of Republican-leaning territory east of St. Paul, like Woodbury and Lake Elmo. Her future is further complicated by the loss of DFL turf in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights. But Ben Golnik, a Republican strategist, isn’t ready to consider the 4th CD a Republican pickup yet.
“Her district gets a little more Republican,” Golnik said. “But with St. Paul and those inner-ring Ramsey County suburbs, it’s still strong DFL territory.”
Bachmann, who last year parlayed her identification with the Tea Party movement into an unsuccessful campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, sought to make political hay of the new map lines on Tuesday afternoon.
“I refuse to allow the courts to arbitrarily determine who my friends, neighbors and constituents are,” Bachmann said, “and I will take every necessary step to correct this injustice. I have therefore decided to campaign for re-election in the new 6th District, where a majority of my constituents remain.” Bachmann’s release contained suggestions for donations.
Bachmann’s old district, which neighbored McCollum’s district to the east and north, needed to get much smaller because of the housing boom and population growth in the outer suburbs in the last decade. Her district is still an oblong shape that now starts north of Stillwater, proceeds through the northern Twin Cities suburbs and finishes off in Stearns County past St. Cloud. If anything, the already conservative 6th CD is even more friendly territory for Bachmann, because the court added to the district a broad swath of GOP-leaning Carver County, noted Darin Broton, a DFLer and public relations operative.
“That western part of Carver County,” Broton said, “is rock-solid conservative country. The 6th has become a heck of a lot more conservative than it was before. It is the most Republican district in the state.”
Changes in CD 1 a wash?
The 1st Congressional District will still span the entirety of southernmost Minnesota. But it gained new turf in its north-central section and lost ground on the South Dakota and Wisconsin borders. Mankato DFLer Tim Walz, who will be seeking his fourth term in November, is again facing re-election in a district targeted by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. He is being challenged by state Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, and longtime Republican activist Allen Quist.
The new 1st District map, which both excises and adds some conservative areas, represents a mixed bag for the candidates. It relocates Wabasha County along the Mississippi River into the 2nd Congressional District. Despite Wabasha County’s decidedly Republican profile, Walz won there in 2010 with a 3-point edge over GOP challenger Randy Demmer.
On the other side of the district, near the South Dakota border, the 1st CD lost the rural counties of Pipestone, Murray and part of Cottonwood to the 7th Congressional District. Pipestone fell soundly in Demmer’s camp in 2010. In Murray County, Walz edged Demmer by 3 points, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer beat DFLer Dayton.
The 1st CD also gained new ground in the north-central portion of southern Minnesota, taking some territory from the southern end of GOP Rep. John Kline’s 2nd Congressional District. CD 1 picked up all of Le Sueur County; that area, which strongly favored Republicans in 2010, will be a challenge for Walz. Immediately east of Le Sueur, the 1st CD also gained half of Rice County. That addition could be good for Parry’s challenge against Walz, because it’s in his state Senate district, noted Golnik, who is working on Parry’s campaign. But Broton argued that Walz will have an advantage there, because Le Sueur is in the Mankato television market, which is already familiar with Walz.
But the city of Faribault, which has a history of electing conservative DFLers like state Rep. Patti Fritz, is in the part of Rice county that’s now in the 1st CD.
Paulsen’s district more secure now
Kline’s 2nd CD, south of the Twin Cities, will probably be more politically competitive thanks to the addition of DFL-friendly West St. Paul from McCollum’s old district. The district has also surrendered all of the GOP stronghold of Carver County. That loss comes on top of losing Le Sueur County and Republican precincts in Rice County.
Those changes are mitigated to an extent by the addition of conservative Wabasha County from the 1st Congressional District.
Broton finds the change for Wabasha County strange because the area is drawn into an ostensibly suburban/exurban district even though the county is closer in character and geography to the 1st CD in southeastern Minnesota. “I would argue that Wabasha and Lake City have a heck of a lot more in common with Winona and Rochester than they would ever have in common with Burnsville or Eagan,” he said.
Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen’s 3rd Congressional District seat in the western Minneapolis suburbs picked up the staunchly Republican cities of Chanhassen and Chaska in Carver County. (He received the portion of Carver that wasn’t placed in Bachmann’s 6th CD.) Paulsen, a former state House majority leader who has drawn a couple of DFL challengers to date, also stands to benefit from losing DFL precincts in Brooklyn Center.
“If anyone has really benefitted out of redistricting, it’s probably Paulsen,” Broton said. “I think in the right year with the right candidate, you probably could have beaten Paulsen [in the old CD 3]. If you had an open seat, you probably had a better chance yet to flip that from red to blue. I think the addition of Chanhassen and Chaska basically made this district almost impenetrable for a Democrat to win now.”
The sprawling 7th Congressional District in western Minnesota was extended to the south. It now stretches from the Canadian border southward to encompass all but one tier of the state’s southernmost counties along the Minnesota-Iowa border. The new counties make the district more conservative, but incumbent DFL Rep. Collin Peterson is a noted conservative Democrat and a leading figure in Congress on the agricultural issues that are central to the commerce of his district. Peterson is girding for a rematch with 2010 Republican challenger Lee Byberg.
The 8th Congressional District, which starts in the Arrowhead region of northeastern Minnesota, held its southern border of Isanti and Chisago counties in the northern Twin Cites exurbs. Almost nothing in the huge district was changed except along its western edge, which was extended out to the Red Lake Indian reservation. The map poses no disruptions to the DFL strongholds of Duluth and the Iron Range or to the Tea Party-friendly areas to the south. The district is playing host to an intense DFL nomination battle to challenge GOP incumbent Rep. Chip Cravaack in November.
The 5th Congressional District that encompasses Minneapolis added to its profile as a DFL stronghold. The map contained very few changes to the district, and DFL Rep. Keith Ellison’s re-election prospects were enhanced with the entry of Brooklyn Center from the 3rd CD.